Many paths converge in the protean music of Lauren Kinsella and Chris Hyson, the principal instigators of seven-piece London-based Snowpoet collective. The sounds, techniques and practices of improvised and contemporary classical music, South Indian Karnatic singing, dance grooves and electronica, folk and art pop – all are grist to the Snowpoet mill.
Although the dreaded j-word may occasionally rear its head in reviews (both Kinsella and Hyson have backgrounds in jazz) Snow- poet cheerfully fly past whatever genre nets may be thrown at them, combining complex musical ideas and penetrating lyrics with an open, expansive palette and a rhythmic excitement that will resonate with anyone whose ears have been opened by Björk, Kate Bush or Goldfrapp.
As a follow-up to the group’s much admired 2018 release – the sparse, folk-inflected Thought You Knew – Wait for Me is something entirely different, a layered, more intensely worked sound, thanks at least in part to the extra rumination time Hyson and Kinsella, like all musicians, have had during the pandemic. It seems to usher in a new self-confidence in the duo’s writing.
Kinsella first made her mark on the London scene 10 years ago with her daring, wordless vocalisations and frequently any lyrics she used were the words of other poets and writers, deconstructed and reassembled by Kinsella in the moment. But here, the Dublin-born singer deploys her own words exclusively.
These are nuanced, poetic introspections on life and love, which Hyson and the band bathe in lush musical structures, artfully balancing acoustic and electronic elements. Saxophonist Josh Arcoleo adds his own refined melodic inventions, while drummer Dave Hamblett lays down hypnotic, refigured dance grooves.
For alchemists such as Snowpoet, whose crucible is live performance, the lockdown has forced new ways of thinking. Where before, the septet might have had a chance to “blood” new tunes in performance, allowing the contributions of each musician to gradually accrete around a composition, this time Kinsella and Hyson have birthed these new tunes from their respective lockdowns, adding the other musicians gradually when regulations allowed.
And yet, improvisation still plays an important role, particularly in the way they have used the studio as another instrument, another element that can be made subject to happenstance and the spontaneous decisions of the moment. The result is an album of mysterious, elusive beauty that will reveal more with every listening.
Two of the album’s tunes – the catchy opener Roots and the Björkish, cinematic Sky Thinking – were released as singles and received mainstream airplay. With releases like this, Snowpoet look set to make good their escape from the genre ghetto.